10 Minutes

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Whether it is a new piece of clothing, the latest gadget, or even food, everyone experiences a desire to splurge from time to time. Indulging in these occasional overspending habits is certainly not bad, especially when someone is doing it in moderation without disrupting their finances. However, for some people, this urge to shop becomes uncontrollable to the extent they frequently find themselves spending beyond their means on things they do not need.

Known as shopping addiction or compulsive buying, this behavioral problem may sound trivial but can be as damaging and problematic as alcoholism or gambling. Fortunately, there are always different ways to break free from this addiction with the help of family, friends, and mental health professionals.

Research has revealed that shopping has a tangible effect on the brain. This activity leads to dopamine surges, even before the actual shopping takes place. For many, this pleasureful feeling declines rapidly, sometimes within minutes after they have purchased their favorite item, leaving them craving to repeat the same process to experience the high.

The dopamine surge associated with shopping can conjure up intense feelings of motivation and rewards. These feelings usually stay in check for most people thanks to practical financial considerations and self-control. However, for others, it may quickly get out of balance, making them addicted to the pleasure associated with spending.

Many people fall into the trap of shopping addiction to cope with emotions. For them, shopping is a way to avoid confronting uncomfortable or negative feelings like stress, anxiety, boredom, and sadness. For example, people overloaded with work may feel the need to treat themselves. This concept quickly develops into a negative habit in which their response to a stressful time is always to purchase something. This habit has been greatly fueled in the current era, where people can easily access shopping through online portals and websites.

An interesting stereotype associated with a shopping addiction is that it largely relates to women. The term “shopaholics” has commonly been used by many to picture women who fail to keep tabs on how much they are spending as “retail therapy.” However, modern research concludes that shopping addiction can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, social status, nationality, abilities, upbringing, etc.

Look out for the following signs to spot the symptoms of shopping addiction in yourself or a loved one:

Spending money unnecessarily

Do you or your loved one consistently spend money even beyond budget and cannot help with it? When financial worries hit someone, they may start doing the opposite of what they should be doing. For such people, overspending is a distraction from the issue at hand.

Guilt trips after overspending

Emotional spending often follows a period where the spender is likely to feel low, upset, or guilty after wasting money. This perpetuates a vicious cycle where they are more likely to overspend again just to escape this guilt.

Preoccupation about shopping

Compulsive buyers have a common habit of consistently thinking about what they will buy next.

Strained relationships

The friends, family members, or partners of people are usually the first ones to notice the overspending habits of a victim and may express repeated concerns about them.

Financial debts

A shopping addict may find it difficult to hold back even if their overspending habits force them into more debt.

Using shopping as a coping mechanism

Many people use shopping as a way to cope with their daily struggles and tensions. Such people usually have a pattern of overspending every time they hit a low in life.

If you are struggling to overcome shopping addiction, there are several self-help strategies you may use to cope with symptoms.

Tracking Finances

Many who struggle with shopping addiction usually do not keep track of how much they spend on a day-to-day basis. A good tip is to keep tabs on how much money you spend and where you spend it. Keep a diary and maintain everyday purchases and the money it costs. In a few days, this record will help you understand your spending habits and patterns, where you are falling short, and how you can overcome these problematic areas. 

Developing New Hobbies

Many people who compulsively shop do it out of boredom or stress. If you consider yourself one of these people who are merely spending money as a form of entertainment or stress reliever, try looking for a healthier alternative. For example, try controlling stress with yoga therapy which can not only bust the high-stress levels but can also be a fun and healthy pastime.

Making Shopping Lists

Whenever you plan to visit a shopping place, take some time to make a shopping list beforehand. Include everything you genuinely need and stick to it as much as possible. The tip may take several attempts to bring success, but it will eventually help you stop your overspending habits.

Getting an Accountability Partner

If you are finding it hard to stick to your shopping list and buy only what you need, try finding an accountability partner who can accompany you on your shopping trips. It can be a friend, a family member, or a colleague who can either visit the shopping stores with you or take the responsibility of getting essentials while you seek professional treatment for your addiction.

Paying in Cash

Put all credit cards away and use them only for emergencies. Give yourself a fixed cash allowance for everyday shopping and remind yourself that this is all you have for the day. You will be much less likely to turn towards compulsive spending when you are aware of having a limited amount of cash with no other means of payment.

Unsubscribing from Marketing Emails

Online shopping has made it extremely difficult for people with a shopping addiction to control their urges. To make sure you stick with treatment, unsubscribe from all marketing emails. Additionally, consider using a browser extension to put a limit on the access to websites where you mostly shop from.

If the tips mentioned enough are not serving you well, you may consider getting shopping addiction help from a professional rehab. These facilities include highly experienced and trained staff members who offer a wide range of therapies to help you break the pattern of addiction. These therapies include the following:

Family Therapy

Addiction of any type does not usually affect one person. Hence, you may enroll in family therapy to help combat your compulsive buying habits and their widespread effects on those around you. Family therapy also helps with the responsibility of actions and introduces accountability in behaviors. For example, a family therapist may encourage you to share your bank statements or shopping receipts with a spouse or another loved one to limit unnecessary spending.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This type of psychotherapy addresses unhealthy and negative behaviors that might encourage compulsive buying habits. Through multiple discussions with a mental health professional, you can recognize these behaviors and learn how to respond to them more productively.

Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people struggling with shopping addiction also have co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety. It is also possible that they resort to compulsive buying as a way to keep these co-occurring mental health issues under control. In such circumstances, it becomes necessary to combat these issues side by side as you seek therapy for shopping addiction.

Financial Counseling

Most people battling shopping addiction spend compulsively without paying any heed to the potential financial consequences. They may tend to go deeper into debt and mess up their credit score badly in the process. Many treatment centers offer financial counseling to ensure the resolution of these issues. Financial counseling helps such people see the results of their actions and provides communal support from others going through similar issues.

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